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AESS Voices

Earth Day Resources!

Happy Earth Day from the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences! This Earth Day, AESS wanted to share these great resources for educators and students to use.

Books:

  • American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau
    • Edited by Bill McKibben
    • “As America and the world grapple with the consequences of global environmental change, writer and activist Bill McKibben offers this unprecedented, provocative, and timely anthology, gathering the best and most significant American environmental writing from the last two centuries.”
  • A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
    • By Bill Bryson
    • “A 1998 autobiographical book by travel writer Bill Bryson, describing his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail with his friend “Stephen Katz”. The book is written in a humorous style, interspersed with more serious discussions of matters relating to the trail’s history, and the surrounding sociology, ecology, trees, plants, animals and people.”
  • Arctic Dreams
    • By Barry Lopez
    • “This bestselling, groundbreaking exploration of the Far North is a classic of natural history, anthropology, and travel writing.”
  • Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
    • By Michael Braungart and William McDonough
    • “In nature, the “waste” of one system becomes food for another. Everything can be designed to be disassembled and safely returned to the soil as biological nutrients, or re-utilized as high-quality materials for new products as technical nutrients without contamination.”
  • Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality
    • By Robert D. Bullard
    • “Starting with the premise that all Americans have a basic right to live in a healthy environment, Dumping in Dixie chronicles the efforts of five African American communities, empowered by the civil rights movement, to link environmentalism with issues of social justice.”
  • Lessons in Environmental Justice
    • Edited by Michael Mascarenas
    • “Lessons in Environmental Justice provides an entry point to the field by bringing together the works of individuals who are creating a new and vibrant wave of environmental justice scholarship. methodology, and activism. The 18 essays in this collection explore a wide range of controversies and debates, from the U.S. and other societies.”
  • Silent Spring
    • By Rachel Carson
    • “Carson’s passionate concern for the future of our planet reverberated powerfully throughout the world, and her eloquent book was instrumental in launching the environmental movement. It is without question one of the landmark books of the twentieth century.”
  • Small Wonder
    • By Barbara Kingsolver
    • “Whether she is contemplating the Grand Canyon, her vegetable garden, motherhood, genetic engineering, or the future of a nation founded on the best of all human impulses, these essays are grounded in the author’s belief that our largest problems have grown from the earth’s remotest corners as well as our own backyards, and that answers may lie in both those places.”
  • The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century
    • By Alex Prud’homme
    • “Alex Prud’homme’s remarkable work of investigative journalism shows how freshwater is the pressing global issue of the twenty-first century.”
  • The World Without Us
    • By Alan Weisman
    • “The World Without Us is a 2007 non-fiction book about what would happen to the natural and built environment if humans suddenly disappeared.”

Film and Television:

Podcasts:

Websites and Apps:

  • Endangered Species Conservation Site 
    • “The goal of The Endangered Species Conservation Site is to help inform people about the importance of protecting endangered plant and animal species, profile success stories of species recovery, emphasize the critical role of the Endangered Species Act, and highlight the individual actions that we can take.”
    • Website: www.esconservsite.org
  • Endangered Species Database
    • “Search by species, state, or county in this database maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service .”
    • Website: www.fws.gov/endangered/
  • iNaturalist (app)
    • “Every observation can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed. We share your findings with scientific data repositories like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility to help scientists find and use your data. All you have to do is observe.” 
    • Website: https://www.inaturalist.org/
  • SHARE Greater Lynchburg 
    • “SHARE Greater Lynchburg is a community engagement conduit offering simple ways for neighbors, nonprofits, and businesses to come together and strengthen our local community.” 
    • Website: sharegreaterlynchburg.org/

Other Opportunities:

 

Thank you to the AESS members who contributed to this list and the Randolph College Lipscomb Library for sharing their collaborative list of recommended resources!

 

Other Sources:

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Mystery Mondays on AESS Social Media

What is Mystery Monday? You might have seen #MM or #MysteryMonday on social media sites, and we’re getting in on the fun.

We would like to share your stories, research, projects, teaching and interactions with ESS. Not published? That’s fine! Tell us how you came to major in ESS or be an AESS member. Retired? That’s fine, too. Tell us about a memorable ESS moment. See form for more details.

In the past we’ve shared shout-outs for members as they submit news, and this is a maturation of that idea where we collect information to feature a member each week. This works toward our goals to increase engagement and foster community in a digital space.

Our 2020 fall social media interns have developed this project, and we hope to give them the opportunity to feature 8-10 members during their fall internship with AESS. This is open to ALL AESS members. We hope to engage students, post-grads, faculty, etc. – all are welcome and encouraged to share. We will be posting these on AESS Instagram and Facebook pages with links to twitter and LinkedIn.

This is where we need your input!

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The following content is accessible for members only, please sign in.

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2018 Plenary Recap

Inclusion, legitimacy, diversity and socio-environmental justice in professional organizations

Elizabeth Beattie1, Michael Finewood2, and Teresa Lloro-Bidart3

1Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Musqueam, lizbeattie@alumni.ubc.ca

2Environmental Studies and Science Department, Pace University

3Liberal Studies Department, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

 

July 2018

The theme for the 2018 AESS Conference was “Inclusion and Legitimacy.” This was prompted by out-going AESS president David Hassenzahl’s comments on the need for professional and scholarly associations concerned with environmental issues to “understand who participates in asking questions and developing answers and whose information is used to inform decisions. That is, who is included and how they are included, and what information is deemed legitimate” (Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2017). This theme is timely and critical, both in terms of the wider political climate in America and within the field of environmental studies and sciences. Environmental organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency are under attack and being stripped of their power, commitments to reducing greenhouse gases such as the Paris Accord are being ignored or revoked, and xenophobia is touted as acceptable foreign policy.

We opened the conference with a panel composed of Patricia DeMarco, PhD, Jacqueline Patterson, Ian Zabarte, and Elizabeth Beattie, discussing strategies for achieving inclusion, diversity, and legitimacy in AESS and similar organizations. Like many in our field, they are each working to increase the diversity of voices involved in conversations about environmental challenges and socio-environmental justice

DeMarco has dedicated her life to improving communities through social and environmental action and policy-making. To learn about her work, see https://patriciademarco.com . She opened the panel with a reflection on Hassenzahl’s remarks about the theme of the conference and the panel.

Thank you to Dave Hassenzahl for the vision of this conference and commitment to addressing the many issues where sustainability and environmental studies and sciences cross not only the silos within academia but also the great gulf between the academic and wider communities we all serve and are part of. His guide for our deliberations was the compelling observation that “those who are at greatest risk often have disproportionately less voice in policy making processes and less access to scientific, legal, and other expertise” (Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2017). Inclusion and Legitimacy is a huge topic that encompasses so many issues. But the heart of the matter boils down to two driving questions: Who sits at the table where decisions are made? Who has standing to speak?

This arena is no longer the purview of ‘old White men.’ It is enriched and expanded to include stakeholders whose voices cannot be stilled: those who speak for women, for people of color, for Indigenous peoples, for the unborn of the 21st century, for the ecosystems of the living Earth. Academic specialists in environmental studies and sciences have an especially compelling place in the struggle to expand inclusion and legitimacy not only within the halls of academia but also in the global community, to give voice to the needs of all living things as part of the interconnected web of life.”

To close the panel, DeMarco asked the panelists, “What can organizations like AESS and their members do to be more inclusive and enhance legitimacy?”

In this post, we draw on the words of the panellists, to consider some of the ideas that emerged from their conversation in response to this question. While these are most certainly not all of the ideas that were discussed during the panel, they do provide guidance for how professional organizations such as AESS, in seeking to overcome our “unbearable Whiteness” (AlterNet Media, 2018), can explore strategies for becoming more diverse and inclusive. Having these important conversations is a necessary part of the ongoing process, and we must continue to engage in them. As AESS’ 2018 William Freudenberg Award winner, Dr. Dorceta Taylor, expressed, AESS still has a significant amount of work to do in these regards. Dr. Taylor is an environmental sociologist who examines environmental justice, particularly in the context of racism. Find more information about her work at http://seas.umich.edu/research/faculty/dorceta_taylor .

Zabarte is the Principal Man of the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians and a board member of the Native Community Action Council. He works to challenge governmental and industry claims about the risks to western Native American Nations associated with uranium mining, nuclear weapons testing, and nuclear waste disposal, and also advocates for Native American land rights. Find out more about Zabarte’s work at http://www.nativecommunityactioncouncil.org and https://www.unr.edu/nevada-today/news/2018/ian-zabarte . During the plenary panel, Zabarte spoke of the need to recognize corrosive patriarchal institutions that substitute cruelty for strength. He emphasized that many Indigenous societies are matrilineal and highlighted the importance of listening to women. Additionally, he has provided the following response to the question of how we can advance legitimacy and inclusion:

As an Indigenous person, my goal is to share the story of my Indigenous people, the Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians. While some error occurs through the use of the term ‘Indian,’ it is important to recognize, figuratively and literally, that the names we as Indigenous people are recognized by in Treaty negotiations with America are the names that identify us as legitimate sovereign nations with the ability to enter into international Treaty negotiations with other countries, such as America. The term ‘tribe’ is a more recent construct used to divide one people into groups based on the subjective organizational and managerial vision of the United States. The Western Bands of the Shoshone Nation of Indians has been divided into many ‘tribes’ and placed onto different reservations along with members of other ‘tribes,’ creating confusion. Stop using the word ‘tribes’ and look to the past to understand the organic, natural, and cultural origins of the Indigenous people of this land.

I can only hope that my speaking to the members of AESS provides some measure of understanding of the fact that Indigenous people walk in two worlds, holding both ancient knowledge and modern competency, and can provide leadership in an ever-changing world. To that end, we all benefit from vigorous debate. In his book, Indigenous Sovereignty in the 21st Century, Michael Lerma, PhD, explains that the farther a people go from their own creation story, the easier it is for them to take Indigenous peoples’ land and justify the taking. My goal is to help everyone, Native Americans and settlers in America, find and connect to their Indigenousness. What is your story? Finding your roots will help you or at least give you some understanding of Indigenous peoples’ perspectives and purposes in maintaining a connection to the places we are connected to Mother Earth.

Beattie is a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia, which is on part of the traditional, ancestral, unceded lands of the Musqueam Nation. She is a privileged, White female, as well as a Canadian settler. She believes that acknowledging the colonial history of the lands we occupy, as well as how our own privileged positionalities shape our own understandings of Place, is one way to begin to legitimize Indigenous voices as valuable and worthy of consideration within the academy. In her work, Beattie also considers how we can learn from children and from Place when we think about and teach about the environment. For example, she attends to the relationships between children and the many non-human elements that combine to create a Place, and the ways that Places act as agentic teachers, offering children different opportunities for learning through the presence of trees that can be climbed, animals that can be known and communicated with, and other direct, embodied experiences that shape the children’s meaning-making. The field of ESS can then learn from the meanings and understandings the children have developed. Find Elizabeth Beattie’s work at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Elizabeth_Beattie2 .

In order to ‘include’ these and many other voices, she believes we need to go beyond ‘inclusion,’ which suggests that we add seats to the table, but does not mean that we make structural or cultural changes ourselves or in our organizations. Instead of requiring under-represented groups to conform to the dominant ways of knowing and being, to sit at the table so to speak, we need to make changes that create a space that doesn’t have a table at all, and that welcomes multiple and diverse presences in the ways that they choose to come forward. Thus, Beattie suggests we talk about ‘diversity,’ and not ‘inclusion.’

Beattie puts forward three crucial steps that members of the ESS community, who are overwhelmingly White North American settlers, can take to welcome diversity in our professional organizations. First, listen to people of colour, Indigenous people, and people from other frontline and under-represented groups. Listen so that we begin to understand what their needs really are, rather than assuming that we already know. Second, learn about the history of oppression in North America and how it is so closely tied to the environment. Third, give up our own privilege and power, and work toward the empowerment of under-represented communities.

Patterson, the Senior Director of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program at the NAACP, spoke specifically about Black American communities which are so close to nuclear power plants that Red Cross aid workers aren’t allowed to set up relief stations in their neighbourhoods. She told of Black neighbourhoods denied levees, although it was certain that they would be destroyed by flood waters, because the cost of installing the levees was greater than the calculated economic productivity of the neighbourhoods. These examples of environmental racism, and the imbalance of power that allows people of colour’s lives to be judged and found wanting on an economic basis are appalling.

Patterson reminded us that the words we use don’t ultimately matter if the intention to make change isn’t also there. She also suggested that intentions need to be translated into actions, and that talking isn’t enough. Patterson gave examples of actions that can contribute to increasing socio-environmental justice, such as when White, male directors of organizations give up their positions and intentionally appoint highly qualified Black women to these leadership positions, knowing that Black women’s accomplishments and achievements are often overlooked or under-valued. Actions like these have a ripple effect, as organizations that welcome diversity in their leadership are more likely to attract a diverse group of applicants or members. Further, leaders from under-represented groups are strong role models for the children and students who may be interested in environmental fields, and will be encouraged by seeing people who resemble them in highly visible positions in environmental studies and sciences. Follow Jacqueline Patterson on Twitter at @jacquipatt and learn more about the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program at http://www.naacp.org/issues/environmental-justice/ .

DeMarco closed the panel with these words:

As we struggle to examine our own ingrained prejudices and biases, it is helpful to recognize that we are all more alike as humans than different in culture, religion, race or political persuasion. In our common humanity we can respect the dignity and value of all humans, and empower voices to speak of their experiences with the confidence of being heard as legitimate witnesses. As environmental scholars and scientists, we can bear the common responsibility to give voice to the living Earth so the decisions made in the halls of power will preserve Earth’s life support system for current and future generations.

References

Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, (2017). “Plenary Panel Announcement for the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences 2018 Annual Meeting,” [website]. Retrieved from https://aessconference.org/2017/12/aess-conference-plenary-panel/ on July 3, 2018.

AlterNet Media, (2018). “The Unbearable Whiteness of Green,” [website]. Retrieved from https://www.alternet.org/story/52166/the_unbearable_whiteness_of_green on July 16, 2018.

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Practicing What We Preach: Reflections on the Pros and Cons of Transdisciplinary Research in Erongarícuaro, Mexico

Erin C. Pischkea, Lucía Pérez Volkow b, Laura Danitza Aguirre Franco b, Mayra del Carmen Fragoso Medinab

a Postdoctoral researcher, Environmental and Energy Policy, Michigan Technological University, USA

b Master’s student, Biology, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico

Jump to the Spanish version below.

Recent trends suggest that transdisciplinary research and teaching have several benefits, including the ability to approach problems with multiple methods and analytical frameworks, the integration of diverse and local perspectives, the capacity to view problems from both the bottom up and top down, and the integration of non-academic partners. Transdisciplinary approaches often lead to robust project outcomes and direct, context-specific solutions to challenging socio-environmental issues. For these reasons and more, organizations such as AESS have several practitioners devoted to the use and promotion of interdisciplinary research and teaching. Despite these benefits, actually doing interdisciplinary research is challenging. Working in large, diverse teams can be more time-consuming and frustrating, particularly when compared to conventional discipline-based projects and courses. Universities and funding agencies can also be hesitant to support these projects and courses due to their relative nascence. It is therefore critical that scholars share experiences so we can collectively work towards improved processes and outcomes.

In this spirit we seek to share the challenges and benefits from our experience as master’s and doctoral students participating in an interdisciplinary two-week short course on conceptualizing the management of socio-ecological water systems in Michoacan, Mexico. The-Inter American Institute for Global Change Research (http://www.iai.int/) funded the course, which Patricia Balvanera from The Institute for Ecosystems and Sustainability Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) designed. Four other UNAM professors from the natural and social sciences instructed the course. The course was carried out on the UNAM campus in the city of Morelia and course-related fieldwork was conducted in Erongarícuaro (hereafter Eronga) in November 2016. Professors employed interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research approaches in the course: we were taught how to integrate disciplines in our research design (it was interdisciplinary) but we conducted transdisciplinary fieldwork because we collaborated with an NGO on the ground.

Students, faculty and community members in Erongarícuaro, Mexico

The course involved the aforementioned faculty along with 17 biological science, agroecology, civil engineering, economics and policy science students from across the Americas working with five enthusiastic Eronga community members who were in charge of forming a Municipal Council for Sustainable Development NGO. The emerging NGO had identified problems managing the municipal water system and were eager to come up with solutions. The course provided an excellent opportunity to work with a rural Mexican town and to learn about water management challenges. The students were tasked with answering: What are the risk perceptions surrounding the hydro-social cycle of the María Valdez spring, as well as the vulnerabilities and threats surrounding its use? A critical course outcome was for students to understand the value of conducting transdisciplinary research as well as producing solutions for the NGO.

In the brief timeframe we came up against several design and implementation challenges worth sharing. First, it was important to the professors that course participants develop and maintain an interest in multiple scientific disciplines, but interest was difficult to sustain over two weeks. The majority of the students were from the natural sciences, making it difficult to create a truly interdisciplinary research design for the class project because many participants were reluctant to break from the methods they were familiar with. Having a more balanced number of students from various disciplines may have encouraged students to entertain and use a wider array of methods.

Students and faculty discuss a concept map of the socioecological system in Eronga

An additional challenge was around engagement with diverse perspectives. Students were encouraged to interact with community members during the course, but despite collaborating with a NGO to outline goals and gain access to the community, outreach in Eronga and true collaboration was limited to a few NGO staff. Therefore, community members who were experiencing water management issues were not wholly invested in our research because the request for help from UNAM had come from a small group of people from the NGO.

Finally, Eronga has an Indigenous Purépecha population that has its own unique practices, symbolic values ​​and environmental beliefs that were unfamiliar to the students and faculty. Most of the NGO staff were non-Purépecha, which further highlighted a disconnection between the small NGO’s interests and those of the Indigenous community members.

While we had many challenges in reconciling Indigenous, local non-Indigenous, and academic interests on the ground while working Eronga, it was a stimulating and worthwhile experience. Students learned from people in disciplines other than their own and got hands-on experience working with the NGO. As a group, we collaborated with a diverse group of people to approach a problem and collectively design a research strategy that went beyond a purely academic exercise. Applying theoretical concepts in Eronga allowed students to learn (via trial and error) how to conduct transdisciplinary research by seeing a problem from a community organization’s perspective and working with it members to begin to solve it.

A water conservation mural in Eronga

The successes and challenges of such a course provide opportunities to make recommendations for others who wish to conduct transdisciplinary research and teaching projects. Although there are no silver bullets, we feel similar endeavors should pay close attention to:

  • The facilitation of knowledge-sharing between disciplines in the classroom as well as in the field. In our case, students only realized the utility of the course design after having to listen to themed lectures, reflect on them, write about them in assignments and then meditate on them in the field. The application of the material in the field helped the students to make concrete connections between theory and practice.
  • Consensus among all groups involved (students, professors, community members) during the research design phase, particularly regarding communication skills. Collaborators should seek to present group work to all involved audiences to build a coherent body of collective knowledge.
  • The amount of time actually needed for data collection and analysis. Conducting transdisciplinary research is often more time-consuming than other types of research. Faculty, students and NGO staff members worked daily to design our methodology, meet with community members and collect data. After students dispersed once the course ended, it became more difficult to interact with community members from Eronga and find common meeting times when small groups could work on writing the final report to present to the NGO.

Course participants in Eronga

The authors would like to thank Mayra Sanchez Morgan for her help in reviewing the Spanish-language version of this post.


Practicando lo que Predicamos: Reflexiones sobre los Pros y Contras de la Investigación Transdisciplinaria en Erongarícuaro, México

Erin C. Pischkea, Lucía Pérez Volkow b, Laura Danitza Aguirre Franco b, Mayra del Carmen Fragoso Medinab

a Investigadora postdoctoral, Programa de Política Ambiental y Energía, Michigan Technological University, EEUU

b Estudiantes de maestría, Bióloga, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), México

Tendencias recientes sugieren que la investigación y la enseñanza transdisciplinarias tienen varios beneficios, como la capacidad de abordar problemas con múltiples métodos y marcos analíticos, la integración de perspectivas diversas y locales, la capacidad de ver los problemas de abajo hacia arriba y de abajo hacia arriba y de arriba hacia abajo y la integración de participantes no académicos. Los enfoques transdisciplinarios a menudo conducen a proyectos con resultados sólidos y soluciones directas, específicas y contextualizadas a los contextos de problemas socioambientales desafiantes. Por estas razones y más, organizaciones como AESS cuenta con varios  investigadores dedicados al uso y promoción de la investigación interdisciplinaria y la enseñanza. A pesar de estos beneficios, hacer investigación interdisciplinaria es un reto. Trajabar en equipos con muchs investigadores de differentes disciplinas puede resultar lento y frustrante, sobre todo si se compara con  proyectos y cursos convencionales basada en una disciplina que no se desarrollan en contextos transdiciplinarios. Asi mismo, universidades y agencias de financiamiento pueden estar reticentes a apoyar este tipo de proyectos, cursos y talleres debido a su relativa inestabilidad. Luego entonces, es imporante para los investigadores y demas participantes de este tipo de proyectos compartir sus experiencias con el fin de trabajar de manera colectia en la mejora de procesos y resultados.

A partir de lo anterior, estudiantes de doctorado y maestria que participamos en un curso interdisciplinario de dos semanas sobre conceptualización del manejo de sistemas de agua socio-ecológicos en Michoacán, México buscamos compartir nuestra experiencia, principalmente beneficios y desafios de la misma. El curso fue financiado por el Instituto Interamericano para la Investigación del Cambio Global (http://www.iai.int/), diseñado por Patricia Balvanera del Instituto de Investigación de Ecosistemas y Sustentabilidad de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Fueimpartido por  cuatro profesores de la UNAM de las ciencias naturales y sociales. El curso se llevó a cabo en el campus de la UNAM en la ciudad de Morelia y se realizó trabajo de campo en Erongarícuaro (en adelante Eronga) en noviembre de 2016. Los profesores emplearon enfoques de investigación interdisciplinarios y transdisciplinarios en el curso: se nos enseñó cómo integrar las disciplinas en nuestro diseño de investigación (era interdisciplinario) pero realizamos trabajo de campo transdisciplinario porque colaboramos con una ONG en Eronga.

Grupo en la hacienda

El curso incluyó 17 estudiantes de ciencias biológicas, agroecología, ingeniería civil, economía y ciencias políticas de differentes paises del continente Americano y cinco profesores que trabajaron conmiembros de la comunidad Eronga quienes estan  a cargo con mucho entusiasmo de formar una organización no gubernamental (ONG) denominada Consejo Municipal de Desarrollo Sustentable de Erongarícuaro. La ONG haidentificado problemas emoergentes para gestionar el sistema municipal de agua y esta ansiosa por encontrar soluciones efectivas. El curso brindó una excelente oportunidad para trabajar con una comunidad rural de México y aprender sobre los desafíos de la gestión del agua. Durante el curso, los estudiantes reflexionaros sobre las siguientes preguntas?: ¿Cuáles son las percepciones de riesgo que rodean el ciclo hidro-social de la primavera de María Valdez, así como las vulnerabilidades y amenazas que rodean su uso? Un resultado crítico del curso fue que los estudiantes entendieron el valor de la realización de investigación transdisciplinaria, así como el desarrollo de soluciones para la ONG.

Durante el desarrollo del curso, nos topamos con varios desafíos de diseño e implementación que merecen ser compartidos. En primer lugar, era importante para los profesores que los participantes del curso desarrollaran y mantuvieran un interés en múltiples disciplinas científicas, pero el interés era difícil de mantener durante dos semanas. La mayoría de los 17 estudiantes eran de ciencias naturales, por lo que era difícil crear un diseño de investigación verdaderamente interdisciplinario para el proyectoporque muchos participantes estaban reacios a romper con los métodos que conocían. Un número más equilibrado de estudiantes de diversas disciplinas pudiera haber alentado a los estudiantes a entretener y utilizar una gama metodologica mas amplia.

Students and faculty discuss a concept map of the socioecological system in Eronga

Un reto adicional fue trabajar con diferentesintereses y perspectivas. A pesar de que se alentó a los estudiantes a delimitar metas de trabaoj y a interactuar con los miembros de la comunidad durante el curso y no unicamente con los miembros de la ONG, esto no ocurrio y la colaboración se limitó unicamente al personal de ONG y al alcance en Eronga. Por lo tanto, los miembros de la comunidad que estaban experimentando problemas de manejo del agua no fueron totalmente involucrados en nuestra investigación porque la solicitud de ayuda de la UNAM provenía de un pequeño grupo de personas de la ONG.

Finalmente, Eronga tiene una población Indígena Purépecha que tiene prácticas únicas, valores simbólicos y creencias ambientales que no eran familiares para los estudiantes y los investigadores. La mayoría del personal de las ONGs no eran Purépechas, lo que propicio  una desconexión entre los intereses de la pequeña ONG y los miembros de la comunidad Indígena.

A pesar de que tuvimos muchos desafíos en la conciliación de los intereses Indígenas vs. locales no Indígenas vs. académicos mientras trabajábamos en Eronga, fue una experiencia estimulante y valiosa. Los estudiantes aprendimos de personas provenientes de disciplinas diferentes a las nuestras y obtuvimos experiencia práctica mientras trabajabamos con la ONG. Como grupo, colaboramos con un grupo diverso de personas para abordar un problema y diseñar colectivamente una estrategia de investigación que fuera más allá de un ejercicio puramente académico. La aplicación de conceptos teóricos en Eronga permitió a los estudiantes aprender (a través de ensayo y error) cómo llevar a cabo investigación transdisciplinaria analizando un problema desde la perspectiva de una organización comunitaria y trabajando con ellos para comenzar a resolverlo.

A water conservation mural in Eronga

Los éxitos y retos de este curso ofrecen oportunidades para hacer recomendaciones a otros que deseen llevar a cabo proyectos de investigación y enseñanza transdisciplinarios como las que siguen a continuation:.

  • La facilitación del intercambio de conocimientos entre disciplinas tanto en el aula como en el campo. En nuestro caso, los estudiantes sólo se dieron cuenta de la utilidad del diseño del curso después de escuchar conferencias temáticas para posteriormentereflexionar y escribir sobre ellas para llevaras a cabo en la practica campo. La aplicación del material en campo ayudó a los estudiantes a establecer conexiones concretas entre la teoría y la práctica.
  • Consenso entre todos los grupos involucrados (estudiantes, profesores, miembros de la comunidad) durante la fase de diseño de la investigación, particularmente en relación con las diferentes habilidades de comunicación. Los colaboradores deben tratar presentar el trabajo de grupo a todas las audiencias involucradas para construir un cuerpo coherente de conocimiento colectivo.
  • La cantidad de tiempo realmente necesario para la recolección y análisis de datos. La realización de investigaciones transdisciplinarias suele requerir más tiempo que otro tipo de investigación. Los profesores, estudiantes y miembros de las ONGs trabajaron diariamente para diseñar la metodología, reunirse con los miembros de la comunidad y recopilar los datos necesarios. Una vez finalizado el curso, una vez que los participantes se dispersaron, la interaccion con los miembros de la comunidad de Eroga fue muy dificil. Tambien se dificulto encontrar tiempo para que los diferentes participatnes s reunan en grupos pequenosa para finalizar el informe final y presentarlo a la ONG.

Course participants in Eronga

Los autores desean agradecer a Mayra Sanchez Morgan por su ayuda en la revisión de la versión en español de este post.

 

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AESS opposes US withdrawal from Paris Accord

AESS Statement on the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord

June 6, 2017

The Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) stands with the majority of the world in opposition to the United States government’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Climate change is one of the most pressing socio-ecological challenges that humans must tackle to ensure an equitable, just, and sustainable future for our planet. Without action, a warming and unpredictably changing climate will at best lead to uncertainty and, at worst, will be devastating for human and nonhuman communities and the systems they depend on for survival. Ethics oblige us to oppose such short-sighted decisions, especially because many communities most at risk contributed least to the problem yet will bear the greatest burdens associated with resource decline, sea level rise, and exacerbated conditions of poverty and conflict.

The AESS community is comprised of interdisciplinary collaborators who focus largely on complex socio-ecological issues. We are solutions-oriented and our collective strength is the ability to mobilize behind appropriate science, policy, and action to mitigate issues like climate change. We are eager to share our research with the public and elected officials–all of whom have the ability to effectuate change–and engage with the broader community through direct action and education. Please contact our members or board if you are interested in collaborating.

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AESS Supports the March for Science

AESS Supports the March for Science

The Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences encourages its members and others to consider joining one of the many “March for Science” events taking place around the country on April 22, 2017. Sound environmental decisions, be they personal, community, business, or governmental, rely on high quality, publicly accessible science. Science that serves the public good must be supported by public resources, undertaken by qualified individuals, reviewed by appropriate peer experts, and published in broadly available venues.

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Bringing values back to policy debates

There is wide and increasing support for the notion that we are living in a time of ‘post-truth politics,’ particularly in the US and the UK, where decision makers are ‘tired of experts,’ are wielding ‘alternative facts,’ and ‘pants on fire’ is no longer a shocking description of truth claims that emerge from our federal governments.  Indeed, many of us in environmental studies have found it deeply troubling to witness such rejection of the general consensus around what is happening to the world’s climate (and why) and the central, essential role of state-governed environmental protections.  More broadly, it is troubling, if not downright panic-inspiring, to witness contempt and dismissal for environmental knowledge and the institutions that facilitate its creation, dissemination, and implementation. Recent, but far from unique examples, come from this month’s events at the US Environmental Protection Agency, where the Administrator has expressed

“Values” cc permission via flickr.

skepticism that human activity is the primary contributor to climate change.  Then, despite numerous historic and contemporary studies showing how environmental hazards are experienced disproportionately in the US (and globally) by vulnerable communities (for examples from across the US, see, Bullard, 2000; Pulido, 2000; Krieg and Faber, 2004), the very existence of the Office of Environmental Justice has been threatened with defunding.

But as the scientific and research communities rally together through listservs, conferences, and demonstrations in defense of knowledge as the preeminent policy input, it seems an opportune moment to reconsider the modernist promise of evidence-based policy and speaking truth to power.  Increasingly, analysts and scholars question the linear model of policy science (for example, see Beck, 2011), a model that hyperbolizes the uni-directionality of the science-policy interface. In other words, that knowledge is created in a social vacuum and then informs policy in an objective way.  Indeed, new and ‘better’ knowledge can contribute to policy improvements, but rarely can it catalyze policy changes alone.  Is this the moment for a more forceful assertion of facts, a ‘truth bomb’ to obliterate policies that are based on political expediency?  Or is it the moment to understand policy-relevant knowledge as necessarily (not accidentally nor sub-optimally) co-produced with values (for more on coproduction, see, Jasanoff (Ed.), 2004)?

This does not give carte blanche to political leaders to fashion and promote claims that disregard science and public well-being. Neither, however, does it mean that in some ideal world, policy making would become fundamentally, a research exercise.  The coproduction of knowledge and values, rather, underlines the importance expanding, not restricting democratic engagement, through improved public engagement with science, citizen participation in decision-making, and most importantly, deliberation, whereby people can assert their own perspectives and interests, but also develop the capacity and willingness to consider others’ perspectives and perhaps even change their minds.  Deliberation and increased communication and democratic engagement seem less and less feasible as divisive and inflammatory discourses become increasingly the norm.  But as the challenge grows, so does the importance of developing deliberative norms, both personally and professionally.

We need facts and knowledge to make ‘good’ policy decisions.  But we also need an explicit recognition of the centrality of values.  For some, the shift from evidence-based to more deliberative, value-based approaches ‘cheapens’ policy debates, and creates an ‘anything goes’ kind of scenario – debates lose traction because everyone is entitled to their opinion.  Indeed, challenging someone’s facts seems more grounded and less personal than challenging their values in a society that venerates the individual and individual freedoms.  But if values are undermined as a policy luxury, and peripheral to good decision-making, then debates will always remain partial, and insufficiently substantiated.

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The Problem of Privatizing the Public Good

The Problem of Privatizing the Public Good

There are some extraordinary conversations happening between members of our community regarding the onslaught of changes brought on by the Trump administration. Naturally, there is much consternation over the administration’s goals for agencies like the EPA and what that means for the field of Environmental Studies and Sciences. In that view, I am almost dazzled by the rapid fire of bad news coming out of DC. I often find myself struggling to figure out what to do. Amidst all this, one thing I keep coming back to is infrastructure. Or more specifically, water infrastructure.

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Sustainability in the Desert

Sustainability in the Desert

I spent the first ten years of my academic career at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as part of a highly interdisciplinary environmental studies department. My colleagues and I repeatedly faced some version of this question: ‘how can you work on environment and sustainability issues when you live in a desert?’ I’ve heard the same concern about AESS’s upcoming meeting at the University of Arizona. Then – as it does now – the question seemed fair to me. So, I spent some time evaluating the sustainability of where I lived and came up with a presentation that I gave around the country that I called Las Vegas: the Sustainability Everytown. My premise was, and remains, that where you live is a lot less impactful than how you live.

For example, I had colleagues in Las Vegas who lived in net zero energy houses. Such homes minimize energy demand with passive and active solar design. In places like Las Vegas, peak energy demand is at the hottest times of the hottest days of the year, which also corresponds to the best times for photovoltaic electric power generation. Further, even the coldest days of the year in Las Vegas are typically sunny enough to generate power. Homes that produce energy in Las Vegas can be more sustainable than homes that are energy hogs, even when they are located in cities with strong sustainability ethics like Portland, OR and Pittsburgh, PA.

Similarly, homes in Las Vegas can have a far smaller water footprint than other, ostensibly more sustainable cities. One key area can be found in outdoor landscapes. An interesting study by one of our graduate students, Carole Rollins, directed by my colleague and founding AESS member Helen Neill, found that after a few years in Las Vegas, people’s preferences shift from lawns to xeriscaping. A front yard with grass has become so normalized in the U.S. that people rarely question it. But in a dry place like Las Vegas you need to water cacti to keep them alive. The amount of water needed to keep grass alive is enormous. Keep in mind that the troubled Colorado River supplies Las Vegas as well as parts of six other states and northwestern Mexico. Xeriscaping, on the other hand, reduces exterior water use to a minimum while creating other ecosystem services. Careful design and behavior, both out and indoors, can have more sustainable outcomes than water guzzling (and pesticide intensive) landscapes elsewhere.

 

Xeriscaping example from Green Planet Landscaping in Las Vegas (source)

As a final example, it is true that there is little (although not zero) agriculture in Las Vegas. Nearly all food must be imported. For my presentation, I photographed collection of items from Trader Joe’s in Las Vegas that included California wine, European butter and pizza, tomatoes from Central America, and fruit from Africa. Any Trader Joe’s in the United States had the same offerings imported from the same faraway places. This is the nature of our cities and speaks to the sustainability of our food system overall, not just what is happening in Las Vegas. Sustainability, in this view, can be found in efforts to reduce food waste, including energy associated with its production and transportation. This is not a place-specific effort; any city can work on food waste issues.

My argument is not that Las Vegas–or Tucson–serves as a paragon of sustainability. Rather, I challenge the assumption that places can’t be sustainable by merit of where they are located. Instead we should ask how we widen everyone’s opportunities to live more sustainably.

 

Sample of ENR2 from Kitchen Sink Studios (source)

At AESS’s 2017 meeting in Tucson, you’ll be impressed by the University of Arizona’s Environment and Natural Resources 2 Building’s innovative sustainable design. You will also find people associated with local government, academic, art, business, and other communities committed to living thoughtfully in a desert setting. I look forward to the discussions that meeting in the desert will provoke!

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